Trofimko Lysenko is not a household name; but it should be, because he was the model for all the Politically Correct "science" in the last hundred years. Lysenko was Stalin's favorite agricultural "scientist," peddling the myth that crops could be just trained into growing bigger and better. You didn't have to breed better plants over generations, as farmers have been doing for ages. It was a fantasy of the all-powerful Soviet State. Lysenko sold Stalin on that fraud in plant genetics, and Stalin told Soviet scientists to fall into line --- in spite of the fact that nobody really believed it. Hundreds of thousands of peasants starved during Stalin's famines, in good part because of fraudulent science.
There is such a thing as pathological science. Science becomes unhealthy when its only real question --- "what is true?" --- is sabotaged by vested interests, by ideological Commissars, or even by grant-swinging scientists. Today's Global Warming campaign is endangering real, honest science. Global Warming superstition has become an international power grab, and good science suffers as a result.
Freeman Dyson, one of the great physicists alive today, put it plainly enough in his autobiography:"...all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models. ... I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. ... They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in."When the scientific establishment starts to peddle fraud, we get corrupt science. The Boomer Left came to power in the 1970s harboring a real hatred toward science. They called it "post-modernism," and "deconstructionism" --- and we saw all kinds of damage as a result. Scientific American magazine went so far as to hire a post-modern "journalist" to write for it. John Horgan became famous for writing a book called The End of Science, but never seemed to learn much about real science. It was a shameful episode.
The explosive spread of AIDS occurred when the known evidence about HIV transmission among Gay men was suppressed by the media. The medical science establishment did not speak up. HIV is most easily transmitted through anal intercourse, because the anus bleeds far more easily than the vagina. So one Gay man simply passes blood products straight on to the next. Sexually transmitted plagues have been studied scientifically ever since syphilis arose several centuries ago. We know how to limit their spread, but many Gay men have died as a result of political suppression of scientific medicine. The spread of AIDS was partly a self-inflicted wound.
Pathological science kills people and ruins lives. Such fake science is still peddled by the PC establishment in Europe and America. Global Warming is only the most recent case. Rachel Carson's screed against DDT caused malaria to re-emerge in Africa, killing hundreds of thousands of human beings. Those human-caused disasters have never been discussed honestly in the media, and rarely if ever in science journals. The DDT scandal is still suppressed.
In Britain, much of the alarmism about Mad Cow disease was never justified scientifically. It was pure, math-model-driven science fiction, just like Global Warming. But it was pushed very vigorously by the British science establishment, which has never confessed to its errors, and is therefore likely to make the same ones again. In politicized science, public hysteria actually builds careers; in real science, it tends to ruin careers. Years after the Brits realized that Mad Cow was a false alarm, the French admitted that Oui, Messieurs, we had ze Mad Cow, naturally, but we are not hysterique, comprenez vous? Besides, cow brains are a great delicacy, and one only lives once. Vive la France! Right across the Channel in Britain, farmers were required by law to destroy and bury hundreds of thousands of sheep and cows. It was an economic disaster, and all because of wildly alarmist science.
Britain is even more vulnerable to politicized science than we are, because medicine is controlled by the Left. That is a huge chunk of all science in the age of biomedicine. But the British Medical Journal and even the venerable Lancet are no longer reliable sources. Their political agenda sticks out like a sore thumb. It was The Lancet that published a plainly fraudulent "survey" of Iraqi civilian casualties a few years ago --- the only "survey" ever taken in the middle of a shooting war. As if you can go around shell-shocked neighborhoods with your little clipboard and expect people to tell the truth about their dead and wounded: Saddam taught Iraqis to lie about such things, just to survive, and the internecine fighting of the last several years did not help. The whole farce was just unbelievable, but the prestigious Lancet put the fake survey into the public domain, just as if it were real science. It was a classic agitprop move, worthy of Stalin and Lysenko. But it was not worthy of one the great scientific journals. Many scientists will never trust it again.
Pathological science has erupted most often in the last hundred years in the field of education, where "whole-word reading" fraud undermined the reading abilities of whole generations of American kids. Young adults can no longer tell the difference between "it's" and "its," even though their grandparents learned it in grammar school. The field of education is gullible and fad-prone, and is very unhealthy as a result. That's why new teachers are taught to peddle PC --- ideology is all they have.
Pathological science has erupted in fields like psychology and medicine, but not often in the hard sciences. In physics, Cold Fusion claims were discredited very quickly. Now, Global Warming is a fraud simply because climatology is not a hard science. That's what Freeman Dyson, who knows what physics can do, meant by saying that the models "do not begin to describe the real world that we live in."
The climate is not "just basic physics," as some people claim. Basic physics is great for understanding CO2 in lab jars and planets in space, but it has no complete accounting for a wooden kitchen chair, because wood is far too complex a material. Nobody has a complete physical understanding of wood --- there are too many different cellular layers, molecules, and unknown interactions, all produced by a genetic code that is just beginning to be understood. We only know the genomes for a few plants, and we don't know how their genes are expressed in cells and proteins. So forget about applying basic physics and chemistry to kitchen chairs. Plants and trees are hypercomplex, like the climate.
Modern science fraud seems to come from the Left, which makes it especially weird because the Left claims to be all in favor of science. Marxism itself was a scientific fraud, of course. In 1848 Marx and Engels claimed to have a "scientific" (wissenschaftlich) theory of history. They predicted that communism would first arise in England, because it was the most advanced capitalist nation. (Not) They predicted that centralized planning would work. (Not) They predicted that the peasants and workers would dedicate their lives to the Socialist State, and stop caring about themselves and their families. (Not). They predicted that sovietization would lead to greater economic performance. (Not). And then, when seventy years of Soviet, Chinese, Eastern European, and North Korean history showed Marx's predictions to be wrong, wrong and wrong again, they still claimed to be "scientific." That's pathological science --- fraud masquerading as science.
(Current Marxists are more anti-scientific, because they've finally figured out that the facts don't support them, but they still haven't given up their fantasy life. Millenarian cults never give up, even when the facts go against them.)
Scientists love to cite the historic "martyrs of science" --- like Galileo Galilei, a great genius who was forced late in life to recant his views on the solar system by Pope Leo X. Or Giordano Bruno, who was actually burned at the stake. But the scientific establishment itself can be easily seduced by power, just like the Church was in Galileo's time. Science is just done by human beings. So we get plainly political editorials in magazines like Scientific American and Science. They jumped on Global Warming superstition before the facts were in.
Last year MIT Professor Richard Lindzen published an amazing expose in the Wall Street Journal editorial Page. It is called "Climate of Fear: Global-warming alarmists intimidate dissenting scientists into silence." Why are real scientists not speaking up enough against the Global Warming fraud? Well, some have been fired from their jobs, and others are keeping their heads down:"In Europe, Henk Tennekes was dismissed as research director of the Royal Dutch Meteorological Society after questioning the scientific underpinnings of global warming. Aksel Winn-Nielsen, former director of the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization, was tarred by Bert Bolin, first head of the IPCC, as a tool of the coal industry for questioning climate alarmism. Respected Italian professors Alfonso Sutera and Antonio Speranza disappeared from the debate in 1991, apparently losing climate-research funding for raising questions."If scientists were totally honest, they would memorialize Trofimko Lysenko just like they celebrate Galileo. In some ways, Lysenko's name should be as well-known as Galileo, as a stern warning of what can so easily go wrong. There are wonderful scientists, who must be honest, or they will fail. And then there are some corrupt scientists who are not honest. It's really that simple. Scientists can be demagogues, too. We should not pretend that all are what they should be. They're not. Fortunately, healthy science has all kinds of built-in checks and balances. Pathological science circumvents those.
Some scientists rationalize this corruption of their vocation by saying that people can lie for a good cause. The record shows otherwise. Fraudulent science and science journalism has led to AIDS going out of control; to DDT being banned and malaria gaining a new lease on life in Africa; to decades of famines in Russia; to children being badly mis-educated on such basics as reading and arithmetic; to end endless slew of unjustified health scares, like Mad Cow; and to a worldwide Leftist campaign cynically aiming to gain international power and enormous sums of money, based on a simple, unscientific fraud.
When the truth-tellers in society begin to sell out and tell lies for some ideological goal, people end up dying.
Saturday, 3 November 2007
The Politics of Science
This is a nice article by James Lewis summarising the state of science and how it's been politicised - to the detriment of all of us.